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False-Positive Mammograms and Long-Term Distress

For some, anxiety persisted up to 3 years after being declared cancer-free, study finds
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The differences among those with normal, false-positive and breast cancer findings only began to fade at the three-year mark, the study found.

Brodersen can't say if women who were more anxious about health or life in general to begin with were more likely to have long-term distress. "I have not investigated this aspect," he said.

Even without this information, the study is a good one, said Matthew Loscalzo, the Liliane Elkins Professor in Supportive Care Programs at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

"They looked at large enough numbers, so the data they are sharing is valid and should be taken very seriously," he said.

The finding that some women are still stressed three years later does not surprise him, Loscalzo said. From his experience working with patients, Loscalzo said, women who receive a false-positive result do often feel at risk, even after getting the news they are cancer-free.

Many, he said, will definitely worry: "Will the next one be a breast cancer?"

In a statement released Monday, the American College of Radiology said, in part: "Anxiety regarding inconclusive test results is real and is only natural." However, the organization of radiologists also cited what it said are study flaws. For instance, the researchers did not take into account whether women with false-positive results had a family history of breast cancer, or whether some women were ordered to have more frequent mammograms, both of which would likely raise anxiety levels.

Women who get an abnormal mammogram result need support, Loscalzo said. Women who undergo additional testing after an abnormal mammogram should ask to get their results as soon as possible, he added. If they are feeling anxious, he suggests they also tell their doctor they want to talk with a counselor, he said.

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